Photo of rally to protect General Assistance for asylum seekers and refugees by City Councilor Jon Hinck
By Ramona du Houx
On May 21st, more than 700 people marched and rallied against proposed cuts to General Assistance for asylum seekers and refugees in Maine. Portland's community showed overwhemengly support.
"Great to see many new immigrants from all over Maine gather in Portland with pride in the banner 'We Are Maine.' So true! So positive!" expressed Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck at the rally.
For the thousands of immigrants who have come to Maine to escape persecution in their home countries, General Assistance is the only lifeline they receive while they navigate a broken immigration system and wait for authorization to work. According to federal law they can not work until they are authorized thus leaving them no option but to apply for General Assistance.
Over 700 people came together to send a strong message to lawmakers in Augusta that they "won't stand for policies that discriminate and force families out of their homes and onto the streets."
Studies show that asylum seekers and refugees create businessess that add to Maine's economic growth once they are settled and confortable in their new home. But the language barrier is great. It takes time, community understanding, and continued general assistance. Immigrants built America. These immigrants are already helping to make Maine more diverse adding new resturants and shops in Portland and beyond.
Cities and towns administer General Assistance, but the state provides a major share of the program’s funding. Portland and Westbrook have joined the Maine Municipal Association in a lawsuit challenging the LePage administration’s policies to cut off General Assistance funding to municipalities that allow undocumented immigrants to receive aid.
“We didn’t come here like visitors; we came here because we had no choice,” said Pitshou Banguninga origionaly from the Congo. “When we came here, we had nothing. We don’t want to be put on the street.”
Speakers at the march included Rachael Talbot Ross, of the NAACP, officials and people directly impacted by the policies of Gov. LePage or Maine.